You probably don’t need one more temptation in fall, what with deer hunting and salmon fishing and bird hunting and panfishing. But here’s a dandy: Saginaw Bay and its tributaries offer great walleye fishing as fall gives way to winter.
Forget how last summer’s hot weather cooked the Bay and sent the walleyes scurrying for deeper, cooler haunts. Cool nights are bringing them back, and trollers – nighttime trollers, especially – will connect with them.
Fall walleyes aren’t dainty crawler-nippers. Packing on pounds for winter, they’ll slam a big minnow-shaped plug such as a Bomber or Rebel, five or six inches long. Offer it on a flat line clipped to a side-planing board to keep it away from the boat’s disturbance, and work a variety of depths until you find where the fish are hunting tonight. Don’t be surprised if it’s eight feet or shallower; baitfish move shoreward in fall, and walleyes follow.
Collapsed alewife populations in Lake Huron, while bad news for the chinook salmon that once reigned over it, have provided a boost for walleyes (and perch). Alewives not only competed for food with the native fish, they munched on small walleyes and perch, too. Not only have walleye and perch enjoyed abundant hatches, their survival has risen, too, to where stocking has been deemed unneeded.
Don’t surprised if you have the hot spot all to yourself, even if you launch from places as well-known as Bay City, Linwood, Quanicassee or AuGres. You’d think this great fishing would draw crowds, but there’s too much going on right now, not to mention the fact that this isn’t fishing for wimps. First, the best fishing is often at dark or an hour or two after, and the air gets cold when the sun drops. Cold water calls for extra safety: life jackets on, radio and cell phone connections ready if help’s needed, an eye on the weather for the fall storms that can turn Bay to beast.
In daytime, even if you’re the lone walleye boat, be prepared to share this big lobe of Lake Huron with the duck hunters who return every fall, and with the perch fishermen who’ve this summer been enjoying success reminiscent of the good old days.
As fall deepens, heavy rains can swell tributaries such as the Tittabawassee and Saginaw Rivers, triggering upstream migrations of gizzard shad and other baitfish and, on their finny heels, hungry walleyes. That not only sets the stage for frantic right-now action on walleyes, but transplants fishable numbers that hang out right through winter.
Although trolling plugs works in the rivers, too, many walleye fans grab one bag of lead-head jigs, another of plastic grubs or Gulp! baits, and head for the river. You can anchor and cast, but drifting just under river speed, jigging vertically, can be a killer. The cluttered-bottom rivers are tackle thieves, so bring plenty of tackle.
Fall river fishing gets good enough, in fact, that the Saginaw Bay Walleye Club (www.saginawbaywalleyeclub.com) will hold a rivers-only Fall Classic Walleye Tournament on Sunday, October 28, headquartered at the Zilwaukee Launch Ramp on the Saginaw River. Open waters include the Saginaw River from its mouth to the mouth of the Cass River, and the Tittabawassee River upstream to the Dow Chemical Company dam in Midland. Entry is $100 per two-angler team, with an 85-percent prize pay-out and the rest going to the SBWC Kids Fishing and Scholarship programs. More info? Call Don Howard at 810-964-6626.
Image by Steve Griffin